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A Difficult Disguise

A Difficult Disguise

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A Difficult Disguise

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5/5 (1 Bewertung)
Länge:
228 Seiten
4 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Mar 12, 2013
ISBN:
9781301270316
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

An Alphabet Regency Romance from New York Times Bestselling Author Kasey Michaels.

"Using wit and romance with a master's skill, Kasey Michaels aims for the heart and never misses." -- Nora Roberts

Everyone has read the plot involving a beautiful young runaway debutante masquerading as boy. But in A Difficult Disguise, Rosalie Darley, taking the name Billy, does her hiding in plain sight, working in the stables at the estate of her unknowing guardian, Fletcher Belden.

Ah, but is Fletcher really that blind, or is he playing a game of his own?

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Mar 12, 2013
ISBN:
9781301270316
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

USA TODAY bestselling author Kasey Michaels is the author of more than one hundred books. She has earned four starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, and has won an RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award and several other commendations for her contemporary and historical novels. Kasey resides with her family in Pennsylvania. Readers may contact Kasey via her website at www.KaseyMichaels.com and find her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AuthorKaseyMichaels.


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A Difficult Disguise - Kasey Michaels

A Difficult Disguise

Kasey Michaels

writing as Michelle Kasey

Electronic Edition Copyright 2012: Kathryn A. Seidick

E-Book published by Kathryn A. Seidick at Smashwords, 2012

Original Print Edition published, 1990

Cover art by Tammy Seidick Design, www.tammyseidickdesign.com

E-Book Design by A Thirsty Mind, 2012

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photography, recording or any information storage and retrieval system without written permission of the author.

Table of Contents

Alphabet Regency Titles

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Epilogue

Excerpt: The Savage Miss Saxon

About the Author

Kasey’s Alphabet Regency Classics

Now Available:

The Belligerent Miss Boynton

The Tenacious Miss Tamerlane

The Playful Lady Penelope

The Haunted Miss Hampshire

The Lurid Lady Lockport

The Rambunctious Lady Royston

The Mischievous Miss Murphy

The Savage Miss Saxon

The Ninth Miss Noddenly, a novella

The Somerville Farce

The Wagered Miss Winslow

Moonlight Masquerade

A Difficult Disguise

The Belligerent Miss Boyton, the first book in the Alphabet Regency series... Surely one of the best regency romances of any year... the most enchanting characters to be encountered in years. Affaire de Coeur

[Kasey Michaels writes with] humor, unforgettable characters and a take on the era few others possess. Sheer reading pleasure! Romantic Times

Prologue

When titled Britain went toddling off to do battle with Napoleon Bonaparte and his Grande Armée, it did it with stylish English panache (more than a few handy umbrellas to keep the rain off their uniforms) and a patriotic fervor liberally mixed with a healthy appetite for adventure, war being regarded in the way of a highly desirable romantic escapade.

But now, at long last, Napoleon was safely locked up on Elba, and the war was over.

The Prince Regent—Prinny to his friends and, increasingly, Swellfoot to his enemies—who had never spent a long night in the cold rain with an empty belly or fought deadly hand-to-hand combat with a relentless enemy, viewed the victory as the perfect excuse to indulge in his most favorite thing in the whole world: a party of truly monumental proportions.

London’s organized and spur-of-the-moment festivities, which had begun early in the year, intensified in June with the arrival of the Czar, as well as that of Blücher, a hard-drinking man who fast became the favorite of John Bull (as the everyday citizens of the metropolis were called), Prussia’s spartan King Frederick, Count Platoff, commander of the Cossacks who had so successfully harassed Napoleon throughout that man’s ignoble retreat from Moscow, and a host of other luminaries Prinny was hell-bent to impress with his entertaining genius, his outlandish, specially designed military uniforms, and his social largess.

By the second week in June the whole of Regency London was operating at a fever pitch, the usual hustle and bustle of the busy city magnified a thousand times, which was altogether wonderful if a person was in the mood to be entertained.

For the hardened veterans of battles in Salamanca and Badajoz, like Fletcher Belden, who was at the moment propping up the wall in a very hot, very overcrowded ballroom as all around him overdressed men and giggling women cavorted in a frenzy of celebration, all this carrying-on was not only frivolous, it was fast becoming downright dull. Turning his back on the crowd, he sauntered into the card room to try losing his boredom in the bottom of a deep glass.

Chapter 1

"Who’ll buy my sweet lavender?... Hot codlins! Cherry-ripe!... Chairs to mind? Bring out your chairs!... Milk-o! Milk below!"

Fletcher Belden groaned once, rolled over onto his stomach, taking his pillow with him, and buried his aching head beneath the soft goose down.

Cockles! Cockles an’ mussels, alive, alive-o!... Old clothes, mum? Old clothes to buy!... Cockles!

The pillow hit the floor with considerably less than satisfying force as Fletcher bounded from the bed and stormed to the brocade bellpull, yanking the inoffensive signaling device so pitilessly that it ended by retaliating, rudely separating from its anchor to collapse in a mantle around the broad bare shoulders of its attacker.

Beck, Fletcher roared in an abused tone, fighting his way free of six feet of tasseled bellpull and putting on the burgundy banyan that had found a home on a nearby chair back in order to cover his nakedness. Beck!

The doorway to the upstairs hall of the Belden town house opened, admitting both the glaring light of day and a slight brown-haired man of much the same age as his three-and-thirty-year-old employer.

You bellowed, Fletch? Good God! You look as if you’ve been ridden hard and put away wet. But it is good of you to be nasty once in a while; it reminds me of how much I didn’t miss your sharp tongue while you were on the Peninsula.

Fletcher shot the man a smoldering look as he ran a hand through his tousled blond hair. Oh, capital! Just what I needed—humor before breakfast. I’m surprised you stay with me, Beck, when you’ve obviously got such a brilliant future in comedy. Perhaps you should reconsider remaining in my employ and take yourself off somewhere to scribble a book. Lord knows everyone else has. George has done all right for himself, although it did bring him Caro Lamb, which can only be considered unfortunate. No, I imagine one Byron is enough for any Season.

My, my, Beck said, crossing the room to stoop awkwardly and rescue the torn bellpull from the carpet, we are in a mood this morning, aren’t we? Have a bit too much fun last night, my friend? Don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy dinner at the Guildhall. Did the Grand Duchess Catherine of Oldenburg order the musicians to stop playing again? That would be too bad, as then you would have been left with little choice but to listen to all those dry speeches.

Fifteen toasts, Beck. We were forced to drink fifteen toasts. I think Prinny has run mad. Poor old Blücher was under the table again, and stayed there for most of the night. It took everything I had not to join him.

As I understand it, poor old Blücher is always under some table or other.

Fletcher ignored Beck’s remark and walked to the window that faced the square, threw back the heavy draperies, and slammed the window shut. There! Perhaps that will keep some of that cursed caterwauling outside, where it belongs. It’s either that or I order every chamber pot in the house emptied into the street via the upper floors. I’m persuaded it would be easier to fall asleep in the midst of battle than to find uninterrupted slumber past dawn anywhere in Mayfair anymore. Why did I go to that ball after the Guildhall? I must be demented.

Beck, Fletcher saw as he turned about, had seated himself on the edge of the rumpled bed, his stiff left leg extended in front of him, and was peering at him intently. Fletcher waited for the other man to speak, for he was not so incensed that he did not know he was acting like a bear with a sore paw, and decided he would be wise to shut up.

Would you like some coffee, Fletch? I’ll have to leave you in order to summon a maid to fetch some now that you have succeeded in dealing a death blow to this poor, innocent thing—Beck pointed out easily, holding up the bellpull and waving the tasseled end back and forth for Fletcher’s inspection—but if you promise me you won’t do anything rash while I’m gone, I’d be pleased to see to it for you.

Fletcher sat himself down in a chair facing the bed, looked at the ragged-edged end of the bellpull Beck was waggling in front of him, shook his head, and gave a small, self-deprecating laugh. Maybe you ought to use it to bind my hands before carrying me off to Bedlam. I’m afraid, you see, that I just might be losing my grip.

Now it was Beck’s turn to shake his head. No one knew Fletcher better than he, who had been his boon companion since the two of them had been in short coats. Fletcher Belden wasn’t insane. As a matter of fact, he was one of the most sane, best-humored men Beck had ever encountered, as well as one of the finest, which was why Beck, who could have risen higher in the world than man of business, sometimes valet, and general factotum to his friend, was more than content with his lot.

You’re just tired, Fletch, he said commiseratingly. Think about it. You returned from nearly five years away in the war—having, by the by, distinguished yourself no end with your heroic service; healed your breach with Vincent Mayhew by marrying him off to the woman you’d succeeded in tumbling into love with in the space of a week, a mighty noble deed, even if it did break your heart for a while, and then threw yourself head over ears into a round of peace celebrations that could succeed in accounting for more casualties than the Great Fire. Of course you’re tired. Who wouldn’t be tired?

Fletcher looked at Beck for a long moment, then smiled. "You know what, m’friend? I think you’re right. You know what it is? I’m getting too old for all this to-ing and fro-ing. Besides, it’s bloody wearing. Whigs don’t go to the Cocoa Tree, Tories won’t be seen dead at the St. James’s. Brooks’s is Whig to a man, and White’s was known to be Tory, but took down its flag and now takes anyone, money being the most powerful politician of them all.

The Czar is courting the Whigs, while Castlereagh and Metternich are publicly telling Swellfoot everything is fine and privately having a collective apoplexy at Alexander’s revolutionary ideas. I’m telling you, Beck, you can’t sit down to dinner anywhere and attempt conversation without feeling that you’re playing chess, blindfolded. I’ve even considered scribbling small hints to myself on my shirt cuffs, so that I don’t inadvertently start chattering away nineteen to the dozen about personal freedom or some other such progressive anarchy while supping alongside a Tory, causing the poor fellow to choke on his turbot.

Writing on your shirt cuffs? It’s a good thing you haven’t, Fletch, Beck interrupted amicably, as I have a devil of a time as it is keeping a washerwoman, with all the help tending to princes and kings and deserting their old employers. Although there are many things I’d do in the name of friendship, I’ll be damned if I’ll scrub your cuffs for you.

That’s another thing. I am so heartily sick of all the royalty that’s running about. Fletcher stood up and began to pace, his bad temper catching him on the rebound. "The Princess of Wales is giving everybody fits, reminding all who will listen and half who won’t that she is related to nearly all of her husband’s royal guests and should be included in the festivities even if she isn’t living with the Prince, most probably in the hope she can wring a reconciliation—or at the least, a higher allowance—out of the business. Prinny goes about the town with his great bulk hunkered down behind the closed drapes of his carriage, whether through fear of the mobs or his wife is anybody’s guess.

"I tell you, Beck, I am almost nostalgic over reminiscences of short rations and forced marches in mud to my knees. Upon recollection, it was easier and probably less dangerous than trying to run about in society without getting tripped up over some inadvertent faux pas. Yes, I think I have had enough. He stopped his pacing and turned to his friend. Beck, he asked, suddenly feeling better than he had in weeks. I’ve had a thought. How would you like to go home?"

Home? To Grasmere? With the real festivities still weeks away? I’ve heard that Prinny is building strange palaces in Hyde Park for a grand celebration. Go home? Can we do that?

Fletcher, his clear gray eyes twinkling, answered happily, Yes, yes, yes, and who in blazes is going to stop us? Think, my friend. I have given up my commission. I’m no longer a lieutenant colonel. I’m a plain, private citizen again. Fletcher Belden, landowner, who has been gone from his estate for nearly five years—more if you count that Season in London before I left for the Continent. It’s more than time I took myself home.

This was a moment Beck had been both hoping for and dreading. He went to the doorway and flagged down a passing servant to order hot water brought for the master’s bath, then turned back to face his friend. What about the many clothes you ordered, Fletch? You commissioned enough to outfit a regiment in anticipation of all those invitations that are cluttering up the mantelpiece downstairs, and less than half of them have arrived—the clothes, that is. The rest of them can’t possibly be completed for at least another fortnight or more.

Fletcher was pacing again, but this time it was with excitement rather than frustration. Clothes? exclaimed the man whose impeccable attire was most favorably compared with that of the incomparable Beau Brummell. Hang the clothes! I’ll be busy today, going about bidding my farewells to people I shall genuinely miss, and offering regrets to a half-dozen hostesses for being called back to my estate on some business matter or other that the two of us will have to trump up between us. My clothes can run home after me or remain here, for all I care. I don’t have any time to lose. I’ve already missed the mating frenzy of the lapwings. Remember how we used to lay on our backs in the deep grassy hills above Lakeview and watch the males do those great twisting somersaults high in the sky over our heads? God, Beck, who would have thought I should be homesick for a bird?

Beck stopped in the midst of laying out three thick white towels for Fletcher’s bath, knowing he had to bring up another subject, one he had been studiously avoiding ever since he had joined his employer in town. And your aunt, Fletch. She’ll be that pleased to see you again.

The quietly uttered statement succeeded in halting Fletcher—who had been mentally waxing poetic over the nearly forgotten black-and-white lapwings with their incredible flashes of bright green and purple when the sun hit their feathers just right—in his tracks. My aunt? What aunt?

Busying himself with unearthing three starched muslin cravats from a drawer—as it was always prudent to have extras close at hand if some misfortune should occur during the tedious job of tying the original to perfection, rendering the thing unwearable—Beck answered quietly, What aunt you ask, Fletch? Why, your Aunt Belleville, of course. As far as I can recall, she’s the only aunt you have.

Aunt Belleville is installed at Lakeview? Have you been hiding something from me, Beck? Am I ill?

Fletcher pressed his well-shaped hands to his chest in dramatic fashion, as if to be sure his heart was still ticking along in a normal rhythm. "Good Lord, I didn’t know. I’m not dying, am I? I most certainly must be sickening for something. Ever since I can remember, that woman would swoop down on Lakeview whenever either Arabella or I turned up with the measles or some such thing. Sydney Smith must have known her personally, for his description of her kind in his Peter Plymley was Aunt Belleville to the life.

He dubbed her sort the ‘affliction woman,’ as I recall—a long-in-the-tooth, near-penniless spinster, some distant relation of the family who would descend on us, bags stuffed full with various vile-tasting medicines and hideous slippers embroidered by her own hand, to establish herself in the house expressly to comfort, flatter, fetch, carry, and generally drive everyone into recovering as quickly as possible so that she might leave before we were forced into succumbing to the illness of the moment, if only in order to escape her cheerful ministrations. So, tell me, Beck, what terrible malady is about to strike me down in my prime? Don’t coddle me, man, I can take it.

You’re not ill, Fletch, as well you know. Aunt Belleville’s presence at Lakeview is in the way of an accident, actually. It was after Arabella’s, um, you know, Beck explained haltingly, averting his eyes as he spoke of the death of Fletcher’s only sister. "Aunt Belleville was there for the services, if you remember, and just before you rode off hell-bent to get yourself killed on the Peninsula, you told her she could stay on at Lakeview as long as she liked because you couldn’t care less what she did. Aunt Belleville, well, Aunt Belleville liked. As a matter of fact, she’s been most happily in residence ever since.

The old girl’s done wonders with the herb garden, Fletch, he ended hopefully, for he had grown to like Aunt Belleville very much.

There was a knock at the door and two servants came in, lugging large steaming buckets of water that they set down in the center of the room before extracting a hip bath from behind a brocade screen in one corner and relocating it square in the center of the room.

Five minutes later Fletcher was in the tub, lathering his broad, liberally hairy chest. Aunt Belleville, he mused, knowing full well that his deliberate silence on the subject had been driving Beck to distraction. And you’ve known this all along, haven’t you, Beck? Of course you have. You’ve been living at Lakeview; it would be dashed difficult to miss the woman. Did it never occur to you to ask her to leave?

Beck, who had just finished giving Fletcher’s new dark-blue Bath suiting a vigorous brush-up, turned toward the tub with a grimace. I think Lethbridge is sweet on her, Fletch, he said by way of explanation, shaking his head.

Fletcher’s right hand stilled in the action of lathering his left arm. Lethbridge? he asked, his shoulders beginning to shake as he thought of the tall, too-thin butler and man of all work who

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